It was nearly 10 pm. A time when most of the population in the neighbourhood in my village were sleeping. But this wasn’t the case at my ancestral home. Not this night anyway. If somebody had seen from outside, my home would have resembled a preparatory ground of some battle. But all we were doing was gearing up to receive a baaraat consisting of 200 guests. A baaraat that was yet to come and running two hours late. Major problem? We were from the bride’s side. A big trouble if not careful. And guaranteed to be much more chaotic.
Male members were seen bumping at each other while chasing their deadlines. There were tempers running high and matured folks were openly cursing at each other. There were lots of yelling and abuses if any work was not done properly. Inspite of rotating fans installed in each room, women complained of the air being too hot for them to bear in their heavy clothing and heavier jewelries. Children cried and played games in such a way that drenched their new dresses in sweat.
I had become a temporary security guard. Women older than me had assigned me an important task. I had to look after some jewelry and suitcases in the overcrowded room while they were gone. A very difficult task which was proving to be more difficult every passing second. Because all I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep.
My older cousin was in a worse state. He was wearing a faded old vest of Rupa brand and Lee jeans. Being the only brother of the girl who was getting married, he was hell bent on making all the marriage arrangements as perfect as possible. Others made him a scapegoat. Things like booking and preparing the marriage hall in front of our home and manually distributing the wedding cards fell on his shoulders. When the market was predicted to be closed the previous day, he was sent 30 kms away to buy food stock for the upcoming ceremony. He had gone to the railway station innumerable times to receive guests and relatives for the last two week. Sometimes two times in a single day. When electricians and cooks faced any problems, he was ordered to sort out their problems. He himself manually helped in the decorations of the whole house when three of the workers left mysteriously at the last minute. His cellphone kept ringing every time and he answered to those desperate voices that demanded his help. He worked and slogged hard throughout the day. When the bridegroom’s family arrived at night, he had no time to change into his new Sherwani. Only when the actual rituals of the marriage started did he slip inside the house and changed into his new dress. Later he realized how it would be to swap your position with a stray dog for one day.
There were relatives who were not happy at all to be part of this marriage. The reasons varied like colours of a rainbow. Some accused the main female head of the house of not sending the wedding invitation in time. Some thought that they should have been sent train tickets of AC first class. Some were not happy with the kind of welcome they had got. Many fussed about the lack of perfect arrangements. Most women found faults at very small things like the bride’s jewelry or when their tea turned cold. My grandma was harassed for lack of proper attention towards some aunties by her daughters-in-law.
How come girls dance coolly in pretty designer dresses in movies? It’s still a mystery to me. Because inspired by such actresses, I and my cousins had purchased cute floor length anarkalis. We had made plans as to on which Bollywood songs we would dance. Those plans went out the window once the actual real baaraat came in front of us. My mother ordered me to stay back but my brother went out in full swing. No one stopped him or any of my other male cousins. Every girl was advised to stay back. I realized later why. There were some transgender people amongst the dancing crowd. They were shaking their hips and demanding money from the on-lookers. Suddenly, one of the youngsters came forward, picked up a transgender and started doing some dance moves that could make Emraan Hashmi blush.
When the bridegroom’s side arrived, cooks at our end threw up their arms in protest. It was supposed to be 200 guests from the boy’s side. But more people had turned up. More than 300 perhaps. That sent everyone into panic mode. Extra headache and extra chairs followed in the marriage hall. Whether anyone knew at least 50 of those guests didn’t matter to anyone. There were some frantic boys running helter and skelter to spread the news and panic those who hadn’t realized till then that unexpected guests had turned up unexpectedly in huge numbers. Things came under control when elders interfered and ordered everyone to shut up and remain sane. In the end, some of our folks had to spend the night on empty stomachs.
How the ladies succeeded in staying awake throughout the night is another mystery to me. Maybe by drinking hot tea and fanning themselves with their handkerchiefs. I don’t remember anything after 2am. I and my cousin went inside a nearly vacant room and dropped dead on the bed, only to be awaken by an elderly woman in next few seconds. We didn’t know her but she wanted to take a nap herself. The single bed couldn’t accommodate all three of us. So we vacated it and gave her our places. We dragged ourselves out of the room and sat on an abandoned sofa and dozed off. We woke up at 3.30am. We were called for some help in the kitchen. Sleep deprived and tired, we looked daggers at anyone who uttered the word help or tea or a simple question of go and find out where my kid is.
I again slept wherever I found place, while sitting on the kitchen floor or while joining women folk singing songs. My head was aching very badly. We youngsters had totally given up but the older women in the house had some invisible never-say-no die-hard attitude. Some bathed at 4am under the chilled waters of a hand-pump, drank tea and started making breakfast. The final rituals of the marriage ended early morning. The bride had to change dresses at top speed every 3 hours. A yellow saree for one function and a glittering red for the second one. On top it all, she had a slight fever, no sleep for the whole night and expected to be still changing dresses with a straight face.
There was a six-year-old cousin who went missing for an hour. Generators stopped functioning for 15 minutes and the marriage hall had a temporary black-out. A worker was sent to fix it who received few electric shocks himself. Somebody’s wallet was stolen. Cash and credit cards all gone. That man was from the bridegroom’s side and complained loudly. He threatened to abandon all the future functions in retaliation. On hearing this piece of news, I went and again took up my position of a security guard in the room containing suitcases and jewelries. There was a rumor of a gang of young men engaged in a group fight early morning. One of them ended up in serious injuries. But luckily nobody had to go in a hospital.
When we bade a teary farewell to the bride, everyone crashed on whatever they found to sleep on. Sofas, beds, inside cars and jeeps, floors and mattresses. Some workers spread out, pushed 3-4 plastic chairs together and slept on them. I went up to my father and told him straight away. That I don’t want to marry in such a way. I would prefer marrying in a very private function or better. Court marriage. In reply, he told me to bring a cup of strong tea. His head was aching.